GALENA (WREX) -
Open doors: That's what the Special Olympics of Illinois strives to do for all of their athletes who face mental and physical disabilities everyday. Two Rockford teams kicked down those doors last week with their snowshoes.
Galena welcomed hundreds of participants to the Special Olympic Winter Games last week. Rockford's finest showed firsthand that it doesn't matter when you cross the finish line, so long as you do with a smile on your face.
You won't find these snowshoes on a city street, or in the halls of your school. These are for the hills of Galena's Chestnut Mountain.
These Rockford Special Olympians have completed their outdoor training, but a detour indoors helped get them here, too.
A Byron basketball tournament got the legs fresh, and continues the mission of opening athletes to new experiences, especially for someone like RPS team member Stella Campos.
"She signed up for basketball and she's manager, which is really good because she's comfortable with it," says Stella's mother Norma. "She's met a lot of new people that she hadn't talked to, she has a lot of new friends, and now she's joined track and field and she's opening up and getting involved with sports at school, which I really, really like."
"They're limited at what they do in their normal daily life, so this gives them extra attention, and if you watch the people participating here, they don't think know they have limitations to what they can do," says RPS Special Olympics head coach Tom Deridder. "Medals are great, but they just like the fact that they're here, and normal."
Fast forward to day one on the mountain, where the snow is falling, and Rockford's representatives are ready to run in the 50-meter and 4x100-meter relay.
"It's really rewarding to watch athletes have fun and get together. We love it. We're like kids here, even the adults and coaches, we love playing in the snow, having snowball fights, sliding down hills, we just have fun," says Rockford Special Olympics head coach Lori Barton. "I really enjoy being out here, with the different kids. It's one big happy family."
"It's awesome, you know what i mean? I know how hard it is, and I help coach the RPS team," says Rockford Special Olympian Michael Antinucci. "That's why I help compete also, to show them that it's not about winning. It's about having a great time, and trying your best."
Fifteen minutes down the hill in the historic district after a full day of racing, Galena gathers for a parade to honor the Olympians, complete with an appearance from Mayor Terry Renner and a lighting of an Olympic torch.
There's more sun for day two, so it's time to stretch for another day of snowshoeing.
These athletes prove that a positive attitude mixed with Forest City support is the perfect recipe for stepping over the finish line. Every athlete is thankful for Rockford helping them dare to dream, and bring home medals and memories that last a lifetime.
The winter fun doesn't stop here, you can take part in a special fundraiser next month.